No Child Left Behind--the landmark, standards-setting elementary and secondary education law--is 10 years old this week. Born of unlikely alliances between conservatives like President George W. Bush and liberals like the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., No Child Left Behind changed the country's education landscape. For the first time, all public schools were required to report publicly on their students' annual progress in reading and math. Schools were required to break down their data by race, gender, and socio-economic status, which meant that they couldn't use average scores to hide their failing students behind the more accomplished kids.
The law's historical significance is beyond doubt. Its success is another story entirely. In a National Journal feature story published in December, I wrote about the law's (many) weaknesses and (fewer) strengths. I surveyed key players who drafted, executed, and now operate under the law, asking where it worked and where it didn't.
Here is the bottom line from my research: The one undisputed success of No Child Left Behind is its spotlight on student achievement. The intense focus on students' reading and math proficiency within different subgroups is the game-changer that will endure into the next chapter of education policy. There are some clear failures--the law's teacher effectiveness and school choice provisions are duds. The achievement gap between well-off white children and poorer minorities still exists, although all students are performing better than they did 20 years ago. The law did not achieve its defining goal--accountability--but it spurred states and school boards to rethink how they assess and run their education systems.
What is the legacy of No Child Left Behind? Is there positive value in the most problematic portions of the law, like accountability or teacher credentialing? Are there negatives associated with its most successful parts, like reports on student achievement and disaggregated data? What do we know now that we didn't know ten years ago? How will No Child Left Behind influence the K-12 debate in the future?